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RFID Gives Racing a Winning Edge

Using active RFID tags, the Indy Racing League not only times and scores 16 events, it also provides critical data to drivers and race crews, and helps engine, tire and chassis makers develop products.
By Patrick Karle
The decoders positioned around the track capture the passing of each car’s transponder at each loop as a record, which can total between 80,000 to 100,000 records by the time a race is over. All AMB decoders are connected via fiber optic cable in TCP/IP mode to a Dell PowerEdge Server running the AMB Timegear MultiLoop software, which writes this data to an AMB Microsoft SQL Server 2003 database application. IRL software processes the information it finds in this database and writes it to the IRL’s Indy Racing Information Systems (IRIS) database, an application created by the IRL. The IRIS software mines the data to create a series of IRL reports, including fastest laps in practice and the race, shortest times in the pits and lead changes, and ultimately produces the final standings.

The decoder identifies each car as it passes and puts a time stamp—measured to 10,000ths of a second—on each read

Last spring, Koskey and IRL programmers working with Clarity Consulting, Chicago, used Microsoft Visual Basic .NET 2003 to build a collaborative visualization application to distribute that data over the IRL’s mobile fiber optic network to the users around the race tracks. The IRL used Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server to build an internal Web site where teams, manufacturers, and others can download the visualization application and access the timing and scoring reports and other important information on laptop computers.

Team personnel—including owners, managers, engineers and drivers—depend on this information. By knowing the segment times for each turn, for example, the crew can determine cornering speeds, which can reveal characteristics of grip, handling and throttle, as well as how a driver is driving the corner. The teams often write their own software to analyze the data from the IRIS Web site and create their own specific reports.

Leon Gutfreund, data acquisition engineer, for the Kelley Racing team out of Indianapolis, which runs the Toyota-powered #8 Delphi/Dallara, driven by Scott Sharp, says the amount of data generated by the IRL system is exceedingly rich. Kelley Racing performs many in-depth engineering analyses from the timing data.

“Running a 1.5 mile flat-out racetrack like Kansas City or Chicago, there is a very significant advantage to be gained by following another competitor,” Gutfreund says. “The speed of your car can increase by up to 4 mph if you take advantage of the hole in the air that the leading car makes. We call that ‘getting a tow.’ When we evaluate our own test items, we need to know who ran a clean lap and who was getting a tow.”

A typical tow report can filter and condense as much as 50 pages of timing data into a single one-page report, showing which laps Scott Sharp ran solo and which ones he ran close behind another car. “The report will show which car was ahead of us and by how much,” says Gutfreund. The tow report basically allows Kelley Racing to conclude which other competitors it can run with most compatibly during the race.

Honda, Toyota, General Motors and Firestone use the RFID-generated data to help them design and develop better, faster and safer race products. And some part of that performance research is incorporated into automotive products for the real world.

“It is possible to use the information to understand how we compare to our competitors,” says Roger Griffiths, race team technical leader for Honda Performance Development. “We can see if we are at a deficit in the corners or the straights. This can help identify issues with the car performance to determine if they are related to handling or the engine.”

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